Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds had begun her testimony before the ACT Supreme Court on Monday when the questioning of Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold took a sharp turn.
Shortly thereafter, she would be accused of offering “cross-examination advice” to defense attorney for the accused Bruce Lehrmann.
Mr. Lehrmann is accused of sexually assaulting former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins in Senator Linda Reynolds’ office in the early hours of March 23, 2019.
Mr. Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
The former defense minister had appeared in court that afternoon wearing a coral pink blazer and sworn on the Bible.
“Have you tried to find out about Mrs. Higgins’ testimony in this trial?” Mr. Drumgold asked Ms. Reynolds.
“Only what I’ve seen in the media,” she replied.
“Listen to the question,” Mr Drumgold then asked.
“Have you attempted to obtain Mrs. Higgins’ testimony in this trial?”
“No. You mean recently?” Ms. Reynolds said.
She then suggested that the prosecutor should be clearer.
“Well, let me ask it this way,” he replied. “You asked for the transcripts of Mrs. Higgins’ testimony in this trial, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” replied Ms. Reynolds.
“Because I was – I was curious about what was said, but my attorney told me it wasn’t appropriate.”
Texts to defense counsel
Mr Drumgold later told the court that Ms Reynolds “wrote to my friend”, defense barrister Steve Whybrow.
“You texted my friend asking him to send transcripts to your attorney at the end – at the beginning of Ms. Higgins’ cross-examination, right?” he said.
“Yes, but I was told it was not appropriate. I didn’t realize it was not appropriate because I had never been in this situation before, so my lawyer said very clearly that it was not appropriate,” she replied.
Partner in courtroom listening to evidence
Mr Drumgold then explained to Ms Reynolds that she had arranged for ‘your husband to sit at the back of the court, didn’t he?’
“No, he’s not my husband, but my partner has been here in court, yes,” she replied.
“And he told you about Mrs. Higgins’ testimony, didn’t he?” said Mr. Drumgold.
“No, he didn’t. My lawyer was very – my lawyer was very clear and I’ve been in Rwanda since last week. I came back early to give evidence today.
Mr. Drumgold noted that during Ms. Higgins’ testimony, “You are in Rwanda?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“And your partner lives in Perth?” And your partner finds himself in the back of the court listening to Mrs. Higgins’ testimony.
“And two hours after Ms. Higgins was cross-examined, you texted my friend asking him to send your attorney the trial transcripts?
“Yes,” she replied.
At one point, Mr Lehrmann’s lawyer, Steve Whybrow, objected and said: ‘This goes far beyond any adverse rational evidence.’
“He is. I’m aware of the test and I’m going to extend the leave,” Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said.
The senator asked the defense attorney for Higgins’ evidence
Mr. Drumgold told Ms. Reynolds: “I will tell you directly that at 4:27 p.m. on Thursday, October 6, you knew that Ms. Higgins had just started her cross-examination. Were you aware of this? On Thursday, October 6 at 4:27 p.m., you texted the defense attorney saying, “Hello, do you have the daily transcripts?” If yes, are you able to provide my lawyer? »
Mr Drumgold said: “I suggest that your solicitor had no interest in these transcripts, it was you who had an interest in these transcripts and that message is to say, ‘Can you send them to my solicitor’, it being clearly understood that your lawyer would send them to you.
“Yes, I asked for them. But, again, it was explained to me that it was not appropriate to make this request. They were therefore not sent.
The senator admitted she was likely aware Ms Higgins’ cross-examination had begun because it had been flagged.
“Then you texted a minute later: ‘Also, if you have any texts between Brittany and Nicky, can they be revealing? “said Mr. Drumgold.
“Yes,” she replied.
Nicky is referring to Nicole Hamer, a witness at the trial and former press secretary to Ms Reynolds.
The senator said she did not have the texts.
“Well, what were you trying to do then?” You instruct the defense attorney after two hours of cross-examination? said Mr. Drumgold.
“So you inject yourself trying to help him with his cross-examination?”
Earlier, Ms Reynolds said she was first told there had been a security incident in the office on Tuesday, March 26, 2019, from her chief of staff Fiona Brown and was “shocked “by revelation.
Ms Reynolds said she was told there was a security breach and that “two staff members entered my departmental office after hours”.
When asked what Mrs. Brown had told her in several subsequent conversations, Mrs. Reynolds only replied that Brittany Higgins “didn’t remember what happened, and – but Mrs. Brown got worried. of Mrs. Higgins’ behavior because she was getting angry”.
In earlier evidence, Ms Brown told the court she told Ms Reynolds that Brittany Higgins told her she remembered waking up and Mr Lehrmann was on top of her.
“And I said, ‘Oh. Oh my god,” Ms Brown told the court.
Asked if she passed this on to Ms Reynolds before the April 1 meeting with Ms Higgins, she said: ‘Yes.’
Higgins tells Ms Reynolds she ‘dressed’ the next morning
Ms Reynolds said Ms Higgins told her on April 1, 2019 that she was very drunk the night of the alleged incident and could not remember what happened that night.
“But in saying that, she mentioned to me that she woke up the next morning and had – I can’t remember the exact words, but mentioned that she had dressed,” a- she declared.
“And that’s when – she was also a little more distressed – and that’s when I thought, ‘I’m not the right person to talk to. [to]’. You know, if you have someone who doesn’t remember what happened and they dress up and they’re upset.
“That’s when I told him that, you know, as a boss – and I’m not a qualified adviser and I’m not the person to have this conversation with. So I suggested to him that I knew that we had AFP in the building and here at ACT it’s community policing so I suggested to her that she could have this conversation with someone more qualified instead and that she should talk to AFP.”
Michaelia Cash and “political suicide”
Earlier, former Liberal cabinet minister Michaelia Cash was questioned by the prosecution over Ms Higgins’ claims that she disclosed her sexual assault allegations to the senator before February 5, 2021.
She told the court she didn’t know there was a “sexual element” to the situation until February 2021.
Crown prosecutor Shane Drumgold asked Ms Cash if it could potentially be ‘politically embarrassing’ for the government if the sexual assault allegations were made public.
“Absolutely not,” she replied.
“I don’t know how it could be politically embarrassing. It would be something to take care of.
Mr Drumgold then asked Ms Cash if she was aware of the term ‘plausible deniability’.
She asked this question for context and then told the Crown prosecutor, “I don’t understand what you’re trying to ask me.
Mr Lehrmann’s solicitor, Steven Whybrow, then suggested to Ms Cash that it would be ‘political suicide’ to try to cover up a staff member’s sexual assault.
“Correct. Hence my confusion with the previous line of questioning,” she said.
Michaelia Cash’s chief of staff appears as a witness
Ms Cash’s former chief of staff, Daniel Try, also appeared as a witness on Monday.
He agreed that one of the jobs of a political chief of staff was to protect against political fallout, but he noted that at the time he was only aware of Ms. Higgins until early 2021.
“It was an event that I had no knowledge of at the time,” he said.
It was in October 2019 that he received a call from then Minister of Defense Linda Reynolds informing him that there was a media investigation of Canberra time.
“Linda Reynolds called me – she basically said she was about to send someone from her office to speak to Brittany because there had been a media investigation into an incident in the office. Linda when Brittany worked for her,” he said.
“It really came out of nowhere.
“You usually don’t have a minister from another office calling you directly.”
Mr Try said Ms Reynolds said the incident was not her fault ‘but did not explain what it was or that it was a sexual assault.
“I didn’t give specifics, but I said it wasn’t Brittany’s fault, deep down. In hindsight, it seems like she was careful not to go into detail,” did he declare.